1958-2011 caractacus


Chris Bullen


supermercuryThis story begins with our friend, Patrick Wren. Patrick was a keen enthusiast and collector of anything wooden boat or outboard 

motor. Like any good collector, he made many connections with folks in this world. Patrick discovered three plywood hulls from the 1950s which were rumoured to have been made in Nova Scotia at the Mahone Bay Factory. These were made to revolutionize boat building as they were quick to build and easy to transport to every corner of North America. They were used by outboard boat builders from Peterborough, Canadian, Yellow Jacket, and many more. Patrick found the hulls, which had never seen water, in a barn in Ontario. They were originally shipped to a start up company in Florida. One boat was put together but then was taken apart, while the other two were untouched hulls. 
So here Patrick was with these hulls - a great find if you can find someone who is willing to take the time to build a boat. Off to ACBS Toronto’s boat show’s own “Field of Dreams” – a great location to display your classics for sale. Pat put the boats in the show, but then brought them back to his home in Schomberg. No sales.
Through the summer Pat would talk to me about them as he knew that I had some interest in the project and convinced me that it would be a great project for the two of us to work on together - it would be fun. Pat and I lived on Hwy 9, about a half an hour apart, and he came to Newmarket everyday to teach at the school five minutes from my house. So off I went to pick up the hull and all the pieces. This was the one hull that had been put together, so it already had oak stringers, spray rails, sheers, seats and plywood deck. scan10035
Patrick was as excited as I was. He had restored many outboards, so his knowledge would be a great help in this build. We really had a blank canvass on which to build. Pat had some old brochures with which he promoted the sale of the hulls. The Peterborough “Super Mercury” was the start of the inspiration.
Inspiration – check; supplies – check, time ... well, life got busy and that boat sat for another year, and in that year Patrick got sick, so sick he passed away too early at 48. Those who knew him were shocked and heartbroken. He left a lasting legacy for many of us. He also left a big hole in the ACBS Toronto club. He is missed.
Missing my friend, more time passed before I got back to the pile of wood in my back yard. It was time to do something with it. In the ‘50s, cars with big fins were the trend and boats had started to copy the automobile style. That is where I began. I was born in 1961, so I missed this era, but was always a fan of the fins. The boat was designed around the fin. The super mercury style was not used, as they looked like they would break while at a dock, and they were just too simple.
The hull was a bit grey from the years of sitting, so we sanded it down clean and then had to figure out where all the pieces thathull as is with stingers  and transom laid in place came with the boat went. These hulls are rare, because they rotted and were not in production for a long period of time. Once we had the hull cleaned up and looking new, we took extra care ensuring it was well sealed. The hull and all pieces were coated with three coats of S1 epoxy sealer prior to gluing and assembling the hull stringers and spray rails. The transom was installed and the funky dashboard was put in place.
I then made a paper mould for the fins; from this I made a rough wood fin out of mahogany. The top was 3”x3” and the sides are ¾” in solid wood. I carved the shape and put it on the boat. It started to look good, but the fins were a little too big. They started off 4” higher than they are today - a little too radical. So I trimmed them down and was happy with the result. Now the fun began as you have to make another one for the other side, and it has to be the same but a mirror image on the starboard side. Now boat building and kids have taught me patience (though I’m still learning to perfect it), and this was no easy task - but we got it done.
The materials for this 16’ outboard are small in comparison. A company like Peterborough would have to look at the boat with themaking fin end cost, but since I was doing all the work I decided, let’s make it the boat Peterborough would have made if profit was not an issue. So this is what I have tried to do. I like pretty boats, functionality is important, but it should not get in the way of good looks. I didn’t make a walk through; instead I constructed two compartments for seating (more deck).The decks are mahogany glued on a plywood substrate and seemed in a traditional manner. Keeping with the car theme, the steering wheel is a remake of a 1957 Chevy steering wheel. The hood ornament on the bow is also from a car. The fins are vented with stainless steel exhaust ports and the back of the fins are protected with a stainless steel band. I like the colour and wood blend found on the Century boats, so that’s where the inspiration for the red on the deck and sides came from.
By now she was looking like a boat. We took her up to have the upholstery done with matching red crash padding around the dash. After I brought her home she sat in the sun for a day. This was a heartbreaker as the seams bubbled up. Unfortunately this is what you get with traditional seams that are not cured – a rushed job. I never had this problem in the past as it took a lot longer to restore a large inboard. What happened ck1was that the seams started to bleed out the oil in the putty. This cracked the varnish and made a terrible mess. Well, with that, the September ACBS International boat show in Gravenhurst was a bust. I redid the seams and let it sit all winter. Patience is a virtue. Then I varnished again, so the wood has about 14 coats of varnish on the decks.
Now that it’s a boat, is it a 1950s boat or a new boat? As the boat was never completed, and now I have made it my own is she new or old? She has been listed as a new homebuilt boat; however she is mostly NOS (new old stock) parts from the sheer down - kind of the opposite of most current restorations.
Another thing that I question is putting the Peterborough decals on it. I found them while looking for other parts, so I purchased them. They look good as they are red like the boat; I thought they completed the look. I have seen this done many times with other boats, but now after showing the boat and having to explain that it’s not really a Peterborough, I am reconsidering my decision. The boat looks too different and this brings up the comment from onlookers, “I never saw a model like that before.” So I may sand them off one day, but for now I would like to get the lights hooked up and perfect the steering cable layout.
I don’t know how it works in your family but naming a boat is difficult in ours. The dippy never did get the name put on it. So how did we end up with Caractacus? I was thrilled as a boy to see a car that was both a car and boat and could fly. My family had recently given me my favourite movie on DVD: ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’. Ian Fleming always has some interesting names. The great inventor Caractacus Potts (played by Dick Van Dyke) was always in the back of my mind while we made our boat look like a car. So Caractacus fit and became the name of our little outboard. Dreams and hard work have come together – just like in the movie.
We finally got the boat done for last summer’s boat show. It was still a rush to get ready, lots of little things to do even on this car4little outboard. It was up to Gravenhurst to the public ramp, and we put it in the water for the first time the Friday before the show. With that we had a little hiccup. That nice looking bow piece extends just past the bow of the boat just enough that the trailer winch tower caught it and broke it off. We had some silicon so we glued it back on and it is still there. The lights are still not wired, but this will happen this summer. She’s one of a kind and is a fun boat to drive.
Our club brings people together and great friendships are formed. This boat is a tribute to the great people we meet. Patrick - thanks for all your inspiration and your love of outboards; you were missed on this project. I never would have done this without your encouragement. I hope you are enjoying the end result as much as we are. Now if only we could make it fly!